Stacey Cooke recently participated in her third tour of Southeast Asia with WanderTours. Here are her impressions of her latest tour to Thailand and Laos in November 2014.
Q. You’ve traveled with Beth and WanderTours in the past and you’re booked on the upcoming Bali and Java tour this fall. What keeps drawing you back to our tours?
A. I feel incredibly fortunate to have found Beth and WanderTours. She has the perfect formula for travel – fascinating, road-less-traveled locales, small groups of fun, interesting and adventurous women to travel with and the lovely opportunity to give back to the countries you visit. My first WanderTour was to Vietnam and Cambodia.
Southeast Asia had never been on my list of places to see, but upon finding Beth’s website and reading the description, it sounded too intriguing to resist. After waking up to the call of a rooftop rooster on that first morning in Hanoi, I felt like I’d stepped into a National Geographic article. That feeling of wonder and joy never dwindled during the entire trip. I didn’t want to leave. I was hooked.
Beth’s Burma trip was every bit as magical, and the hill tribe tour of Thailand and Laos confirmed for me that there’s no way to tire of the beauty and diversity of Southeast Asia. I’d never been on a small group tour before joining the WanderTour sisterhood. This is definitely the way to travel. You can bask in the richness of these beautiful countries and the people without having the experience diluted by 100 fellow tourists, all jostling to stick together and keep the pace of an unwieldy schedule. You have time to mingle with locals and feel what another culture is truly like. And the bonus I hadn’t counted on…is the great friends I’ve made on these tours. I can’t wait for Bali!
Q. Would you recommend an all-women tour to others, and if so, why?
A. Absolutely, I would recommend an all-woman tour, especially in these small groups. We have a ball! I love sharing the excitement and joy of discovery with the other ladies. Everyone supports each other in so many ways. I’ve seen the entire group circle the wagons to help fellow travelers in times of misplaced passports, suitcases or purses, or unexpected illness. We’re a temporary family as we travel outside our comfort zones together. We bond through shared stories, uproarious laughter, silence in awe of the breathtaking sights, joy in interacting with and learning from the wonderfully friendly local people, shopping in the night markets, and of course…FOOD.
You experience the thrill of feeling you’re experiencing new countries almost alone, but at the same time you are safe in the knowledge that your fun and savvy tour leaders are with you. On my first tour, during our stay in Ho Chi Minh City, one of our gang decided to get her nose pierced. Tour leader Joslin found the best place and both of them welcomed me when I asked if I could tag along. I never imagined I’d return from Vietnam with a nose piercing. You never know what will happen.
Q. What surprised you (if anything) about your travels in Thailand and Laos?
A. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the extreme diversity of these countries gives me the same “wow” factor on each trip. I guess I thought I might start feeling that I’d “been there, done that” with Southeast Asia. WRONG. These trips never fail to give me chills and make me feel alive. Travel to destinations so foreign to our own way of living truly makes you live in the moment.
Q. What was your most memorable experience on this tour?
A. You know that’s going to be a nearly impossible question to answer! Spending the day at the elephant preserve is way up there on my list of great memories. Feeding and bathing the elephants, watching the antics of the little ones, saying hello to and touching the old matriarch pachyderm of the compound, and hearing the stories of the distinct personalities of the resident elephants was unforgettable.
Q. Did Thailand and Laos live up to your expectations? And if yes, how?
A. Definitely. From the steamy, huge and modern city of Bangkok to the tiny villages in the cool mountain air of Laos, there was never a dull moment. I loved the magnificent temples, smiling people, insanely beautiful flower markets, marvelous cooking classes, the variety of beautiful clothing and jewelry of the many different ethnic groups, the diverse flavors and the sounds of the cities and small villages at night. It goes on and on.
The sights, sounds and smells are still in my mind and heart like it all happened yesterday. I can’t tell you a thing about my commute or my work day most of the time. It all runs together in a blur. In stark contrast, I remember almost every minute of each of my WanderTour trips, and I remember those minutes with all my senses and emotions. These trips are sort of like pulse checks for me. Can I still feel the excitement I felt about things when I was a little kid? Absolutely! Bali can’t roll around soon enough!
All photos by Stacey Cooke